Connecting with Employees at a Time of Unprecedented Change: Preparation, Adaptation and Empathy

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Connecting with Employees at a Time of Unprecedented Change:  Preparation, Adaptation and Empathy

This article is part of a series in which OECD experts and thought leaders – from around the world and all parts of society – address the COVID-19 crisis, discussing and developing solutions now and for the future. It aims to foster the fruitful exchange of expertise and perspectives across fields to help us rise to this critical challenge. Opinions expressed do not necessarily represent the views of the OECD.

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OECD Tackling coronavirus (COVID‑19) Contributing to a global effort

The unprecedented situation we are facing with the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic will have a permanent impact on the way we approach work.

With people being asked to continue physically distancing to prevent the spread of the disease, businesses are adapting quickly to ensure continuity of operations. Last month, I had the opportunity to participate in the World Economic Forum – OECD – AARP Living, Learning, and Earning Longer (LLEL) collaborative peer-learning conference call with over 30 global executives from six countries to discuss the impact of COVID-19 on business operations. We heard compelling examples of how organisations in the collaborative are finding new sources of resilience and innovation in these very difficult times. 

At AARP, managing our workforce during the COVID-19 pandemic has reinforced and broadened some crucial lessons.

We have seen fresh evidence of how vital it is to build a foundation for business continuity well before we know under what circumstances such a capacity might be brought to life. 

We have been reminded that it is critically important to have farsighted leadership in Human Resources and IT, and to have those two departments work together in a harmonious fashion. 

Read the OECD's policy response on Supporting people and companies to deal with the COVID-19 crisis

In adapting our operations through remote connections, we have focused on the human connection, taking into account the personal lives of all the individuals who comprise our multigenerational workforce. Regardless of age and life stage we all want to continue to make a meaningful contribution, and technology is helping to light the way. 

Close co-ordination among our human resources team, IT and our broader business continuity team has enabled us to move quickly to ensure business continuity during the pandemic. We had already been prepared to a significant extent through flexible workplace policies and through many online training and development opportunities for our employees. Now we have gone further and faster to make universal telework work.

Business leaders, in this period of great uncertainty, have to consider new ways to ensure business continuity and organisational resilience. A multigenerational workforce, with four or five generations working alongside each other—if not physically, then virtually—helps to meet these challenges.

As we recognise the value of a multigenerational workforce, AARP has always looked at employee offerings through a life-stage lens. Adapting policies and practices to meet employees’ needs across the spectrum of age and life stage builds the workforce of the future.

 We need to strengthen social dialogue to respond to the on-going global health crisis: Lessons from Denmark, by Lizette Risgaard, President, Danish Confederation of Trade Unions

One lesson this experience reinforces is that the stereotype of older workers as technophobes is wrong and counterproductive. Workers across the age span have proven adept at teleworking. This realisation will have lasting consequences. At the same time, younger workers are more likely to be mentors in tech solutions, just as many older workers can share their institutional knowledge and experience.

Part of our foundation for adaptation at AARP is the policies we have established to help our employees achieve a work-life balance. We already had in place a policy of 80 hours a year of caregiving leave for our employees, as well as robust vacation and sick leave policies, and flexible work arrangements.

I am deeply proud of the preparations we have made and the resilience our workforce has shown. I am also convinced there is so much we can learn from other organisations. Here are six guiding principles discussed by my fellow executives from around the globe during the peer learning call that I would like to share with you.

There is no existing playbook on how to respond to COVID-19, as the future of work is changing before our eyes. For example, the pandemic has sped up the adoption of emerging trends in working remotely and other initiatives to engage and sustain the workforce.

Now more than ever, collaboration internally and externally will be key to the recovery.

Businesses need to develop continuity plans that respond to the unique nature of this crisis. They also need a strategy for re-entry back into the workplace that focuses on the human element and takes the personal lives of employees and their families into consideration—for the long-term benefit of the enterprise.

Leaders within their organisations have the responsibility to provide clear, concise, and timely communication to their employees and other stakeholders.

Begin the process of thinking through the long-term impact of how your business and workforce will and should operate as we emerge from the COVID-19 crisis.

Have empathy for your employees who may be taking on new responsibilities and roles while at home. Listen to employees and co-develop creative solutions that allow employers to continue to contribute as we transition into a new normal.

Reflections on Empowerment: The COVID-19 pandemic reinforces the need for solidarity and a focus on our life priorities, by Mike Mansfield, Program Director, Aegon Center for Longevity and Retirement

Finally, AARP is actively engaged in the response to COVID-19, and we are working hard to help our members, their families and the broader community. Here are resources you might find helpful to share with your employees, friends, and family:

– Information and tips daily, in both English and Spanish, on our website at

– Weekly tele-town halls with top COVID-19 experts.

– To see and to share innovations taking place around the globe, go to AARP International.

In these difficult times, we should commit to and build a stronger and more inclusive future for workers of all ages. New ideas and bold solutions can surface from this disaster. Let’s continue to share promising practices that will work well in the current environment and beyond.

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excellent article

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